Read an account of changing political wave in India from the lens of a common man
October 15, 2010. Graduate School. The University of Nottingham, UK.
The classroom buzzed in excitement to welcome the new Professor who was a member of EU commission, had several accolades to his credit. A highbrow thinker and an Environment Science & Policy strategist, he was my first choice for graduate thesis. Sharp 10 AM, the class rose in honour as he walked in. I was seated on the second last bench. Blessed with shortest stature in the hall, I wished for a moment, if all my friends dropped down like drunken flags in defeat, I could then possibly make my presence felt to him.
He was kind enough to briefly introduce himself and then asked students to give their introductions too. Well this is exactly what I was waiting for. A million thoughts flooded my mind to frame the best introductions ever, after all ‘first impression is the last impression’. I was flabbergasted with Prof’s knowledge of the historical trends and the latest happenings in remotest cities around the world, as he added his piece of mind to 22 nationalities represented in the lecture hall. I was bouncing off the wall, when it came echoing in my ears – “Next”. I stood bright eyed and bushy tailed and said “Good Morning, I am Rashmi. I come from incredible INDIA. I have 3 yrs of work experience in environment consulting, project management…” – 1min 15sec, he looked at me in appreciation. I knew, I did a good job, until I heard him say “That’s cool. India is an exciting country. Well what’s your stand on the latest Common Wealth Games Scam (CWG) in Delhi? ”, and there it came down hitting me hard on the face. In a fraction of a second all my excitement had crumpled to dust. I mustered courage and sheepishly said, reaffirming my own faith “India has and will always remain an incredible part of the world, for Indians nurture true values. CWG is a clear reflection of lousy and spineless leadership, which is running insane in greed and ambition. It’s true that corruption has infected our very basic political framework and I am ashamed to acknowledge this”. Prof. looked at me in deeper appreciation and acceptance and signalled me to take my seat. As I settled down, 53 pair of unconvinced eyes smirked disrespectfully at my very existence. I hung my head in shame. After this, every second spent in the hall seemed like in hell.
Tears swelled & blurred my vision as I isolated myself in a deserted corner in the library, after the lecture. Several random thoughts filled my mind but the bigger question was, ‘Did I really believe in what I said?’
I was raised in a middle class family, in the capital city of Lucknow, U.P. Born to simple , devout and pious parents who laid firm foundation in the power of goodness. The family values that nurtured me and my three siblings were in alignment with the ancient Indian Culture. We also learnt about the practical nitty-gritties of life, which helped us to be patient and live happily with our surroundings. If rains flooded the main roads, we carried a pair of rain shoes in the hand bags. Never made fuss about the 3 hrs long train reservation queue, for I always had a good book in hand. Mom often burnt ‘Guggul’ (Indian Bedellium) in the evening hours to keep away the flies and mosquitoes, which after the sumptuous feed on the 50 meter away garbage heap came to our house to rest. Sleepless sweaty nights in hot summer, without electricity, was fun; we slept on terrace with mom’s cotton dampened saree covering us from head to toe, giving us enough cool to get into the lap of sleep by 2 AM, before we rushed to school early morning.
I had learnt life’s deeper lessons of patience, forbearance, optimism and co-operation. YES, what I didn’t learn was to Question the system. My ’30 yrs of PRIDE’ in Indian values, culture, tradition and diversity never seeked answer to bigger questions – Why even till date that road still gets flooded? Why in this electronic age 3 hrs are needed to get a train ticket for 1 hour travel? Why even after 6 decades of independence we don’t have 24×7 power & water supply? Why corporation removes society garbage just once a month? Why people still die of cold & heat in India? Why the most sacred rivers in the country are the dumping ground for the city’s untreated waste? The list is endless…
Mind you I am not the only one, but every Indian has a story to tell, story of helplessness, forbearance, injustice and exploitation…
Yes its true, I didn’t believe in my own argument, presented in the classroom as I never questioned the wrong in my surrounding instead learnt to live happily…how could I then just blame the leadership? I think it was a mere ingenious excuse that came to my rescue to defend my own identity…
With every BBC news – on scam, rape and crime stories from India, my national pride demolished day by day. The silent eyes around me spoke a thousand words and conveyed a hundred emotions of disgust. I did not know whether to be proud of my past or be ashamed of my present. I stopped listening to news and avoided any discussions on latest happenings in India – ‘ignorance is bliss’. My friend circle soon confined to the social networking sites. I was just learning to live smilingly with this new wave around me, when one day, I saw the status update on my friend’s Facebook page, “Julian Assange, founder Wikileaks, confirmed Indian names in Swiss bank account with a total wealth of 1 – 1.5 trillion USD”. Following this, my Facebook page was flooded with latest corruption and crime news in India. I had no option but to take interest in how India is responding to this moral crisis.
Soon I learnt that Indians were fighting against corruption under the leadership of Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev. 27th Feb 2011, India witnessed a massive turnout of people’s rage against the current political system. They peacefully protested and demanded Government (Govt.) to retrieve black money from Indian accounts in Swiss bank and use it for Nation’s development. Many like me couldn’t remain untouched for long. For the first time, this movement created a platform for people from all the walks of life, forgetting their religious and social identities and stand in unison for a common national cause.
This startled the current Govt, which had a history of 127 yrs of politics based on religion & caste. Till date India had stood together on streets either for cricket or live Bollywood shows only. May 2011, the protest was at its peak, the Govt. realised the seriousness of the issue and successfully crushed the movement by ‘baton charge’ on protestors on 5th June 2011 – mid night… manhandled women, children and elderly and flinged away the protestors when they were fast asleep in the Ramleela ground. This added fuel to fire and exacerbated the whole Nation on this shameless naked dance of pseudo-democracy.
Some passionate individuals continued this movement under the banner of ‘India against Corruption’ (IAC) with an unvarying confidence to bring about a change. 76 year old Gandhian, Anna Hazare, led the campaign. This time the fight was not limited to retrieval of black money but proposing & demanding a strong ‘Jan Lokpal Bill’ (JLB) or an anti-corruption law in India. Millions of Indians walked on streets, not only in Delhi but protest broke all over the country. It was the awakening of the common man towards the tyrannical leadership in India. Popular demonstrations all across the Indian subcontinent sent jitters to the oppressors and this revolt was bound to depose the Indian National Congress (INC).
By this time, I had returned to Delhi for my thesis work. Due to my close association with IAC, I now had a better understanding of correlation between Politics, Human Development and Corruption. I too participated in the protest. The passion in people was infectious, whole atmosphere was charged up with patriotism, each face was raging in fury and each pair of eyes was questioning. Along with JLB we demanded Right to Reject, Right to Recall, Gram Swaraj & Act of Accountability. This time the oppressors knew that any attempt to crush the Nation’s swelling emotion will break into a mutiny, so they turned a deaf ear to people’s demand. The anti-corruption crusader, Anna Hazare lead the way to non-cooperation by fasting thrice, to show people’s agony. I remember many of us kept fast at home, with family, to show our solidarity. Now in every nook and corner of India people were talking about corruption. A common thread seemed to stitch the nation together.
Print, electronic and social media played a major role in connecting people. The pressure was building up as the movement was now making international headlines. At last, the Govt was ready to discuss JLB. A team of five members from Anna’s Team met the Sr. Govt officials but it was a sham meet. Govt knew accepting JLB means sending 50% of their officials behind the bars, they instead used this opportunity to threaten team Anna to immediately shut down the movement and challenged “We will not make JLB, if you want then fight election, come to power and make your own JLB…”.
By then it had been over 2 yrs now fighting for this bill, but this meeting shattered all our hopes and we suspected that this movement may soon die out in the hands of indifferent tyrants. We wondered how can we get a strong anti corruption law in the country to seize this trade off the Nation?
2nd Oct 2012, marked a historic day when a social movement turned into a political revolution. A group of people from Anna’s team, formed a political party ‘Aam Aadmi or Common People’s Party (AAP) under the leadership of Mr. Arvind Kejriwal, who was also the strategic mind behind the IAC movement. We were all surprised because politics definitely wasn’t clean enough to jump into…
Arvind Kejriwal (AK), 45 year old ‘common man’ in short sleeved shirt and sandals roared like a lion challenging the current system. Deeply grounded with high moralistic vision for the Nation in his eyes, he glared and guided the common people. An alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology and Ex-Joint Commissioner, Indian Revenue Services, AK new exactly way to corrupt free India. Prestigious Raman Magsaysay awardee, he spent considerable time with Mother Teresa serving people, and was fighting against corruption since 2002 through his NGO – Parivartan.
AK clearly said “We have not come here to do politics but to change the politics of this country. It is not a fight for a bill alone but a bugle against the corrupt political system in India”. Well it was a big statement, because to deracinate the 127 yrs old establishment was no joke, when Delhi state assembly elections were scheduled just after a year. AK’s vision, confidence and fearlessness soon captivated the masses. A huge number of people supported this stand because though a radical step it seemed to be the only viable and credible alternative left with the people of this country. While some of us were still blowing hot and cold, a series of events that defined 2012 -13 for India helped us in decision making….
Lately Delhi was reported as the Rape City. December 16, 2012 a brutal gang rape of a 23 yr old girl tore the nation apart. The awakened youth protested and marched with candles. Young India protested at the CM’s gate in disgust and anger demanding justice. The indifferent response and clumsy attitude towards women security in India raised several fingers at INC.
Sky rocketing prices of basic commodities and rampant disease like dengue highlighted the ineffective and insufficient medical services that gripped Delhi. Amplified water and electricity bills had completely tormented peaceful City. Soon AK pulled the Delhi Govt. Strings by raging two massive protests on falsely inflated electricity bills and distribution of water supply in Delhi. He also went on hunger strike for thirteen days to raise people’s consciousness, instil confidence amongst the masses and participate in the civil disobedience movement by saying ‘No’ to the unjust electricity bills. AAP exposed various scams against several corrupt leaders and high profile businessmen – some to name are Robert Vadra (son-in-law of INC chief Sonia Gandhi), Kapil Sibbal (Minister HRD, IT & Law), Salman Khursheed (Minister External Affairs), Mukesh Ambani (MD Reliance Industries), Sheila Dikshit (Chief Minister of Delhi). Hopeless responses from weak judiciary further fumed the common masses. We were not only astounded at these revelations but were getting convinced with every step that if we have to change the system we, the people, need to enter the political slough and clean it from within, providing evidences will not help any more.
Soon we related better to AK’s philosophy. People were now joining him in clusters, his periphery of supporters was growing exponentially as now they looked up to AAP as the only viable & credible alternative in the upcoming Delhi election. This was definitely scary to the INC and the largest national opposition party BJP. Soon there was total information blackout on AK’s activity by media, for obvious reasons. Social media proved to be a bigger platform to connect with people across borders. It was no more a fight for Delhi but a beginning of a corrupt free India picking strings from Delhi. Soon volunteers from Delhi, entire Indian subcontinent and Non Resident Indians from various parts of the globe started resonating with AAP’s vision – it was no more a state election but truly a political movement. Several intellectuals from academia to business, IT professionals to college students, Bankers to Artists, all were ready to make a dent in the corrupt system, under AK’s leadership.
Something very remarkable was happening – people’s dissatisfaction and the rage was gradually & steadily converting to inspiring patriotism, as we now had a visionary leader. For the first time the political discussions from the evening coffee at home had moved out on the streets. People were not talking in disgust but were hopeful for a better India and were discussing how each one can contribute.
AK soon had a roster of intellectuals around him that adorned AAP like gems, namely – Dr. Kumar Vishwas (Professor & popular Hindi Poet), Yogendar Yadav (Renowned Psephologist), Manish Sisodia (former Journalist & social activist), Sanjay Singh (An enterprising social activist) and Shazia Ilmi (former journalist & relentless campaigner) and many more. Bunch of these leaders sent ripples of change through their charismatic personality, love for the country & humility. AAP leaders defined a new set of criteria for Political leadership in India. History was in making and we were to witness & relive the 2nd war of true independence, after 1947.
May 2013, AAP’s election campaign was in full swing. Their innovative strategy of door-to-door campaign, social media campaign, citizen call campaign, inspiring and innovative posters and cavernous slogans soon captured the imagination of people. For the first time in Indian politics a transparent system was put in place to select candidates, from a potter to a bureaucrat was contesting elections under the AAP banner. AAP was changing the rules of the game – it made all its official communications, survey raw data and funding sources public. We had never heard of such a thing from a political party earlier. They made promises which were beyond imagination of the common man who was being trampled under political arrogance since last 67 – Pass JLB, remove VIP culture in political arena , decentralization of power, women security through social security force, reduce electricity & water tariffs, improve govt school education to the level of private schools in Delhi, improved health system are just few to name. Readers must be thinking these are common issues which every govt must do… but please do not forget I am talking of India where issues such as these were used only for lip service and political hypocrisy.
The hockey stick growth of AAP remained unacknowledged by both the ruling and opposition party and called it ‘media hype’. On several occasion they denied the very existence of AAP… But change was happening, India was awakening and we were not mere spectators but active agents of change. I had moved to Singapore by now, for good and was soon associated with a group of passionate Indians who were campaigning for Delhi elections. First time, NRI’s across the world played a very important role in India election campaign. Many took sabbatical, some left jobs, some travelled just to vote. More than 30% of the total funding came from NRI’s. In Singapore we were a bunch of 400+ active volunteers working relentlessly for AAP. Singapore team made more than 15000 calls through ‘citizen call campaign’ to Delhi voters raising awareness about AAP’s mission & vision. More than 7,000 volunteers made calls from India & other parts of world making more than 0.3 million calls. 70% of the calls showed positive support for AAP, it was indisputably a clean sweep. Every strategic move of AAP, took them closure to the victory. The Road shows in the last month was a show stopper.
It was actually not all that smooth as it sounds here. Opposition did not leave any stone unturned to tarnish AAP’s image, they slammed AAP with false allegations, rising political ambition of the common man, creating misunderstanding between the AK and Anna Hazare, conducted fake sting operation, blamed AAP for anarchy and disorder in the country. AAP dealt each stroke with wit and simplicity, this only reaffirmed our faith in the new leadership.
8th December 2013 the results were to be declared for Delhi elections conducted on 4th the same month. All of us, across the globe (despite varying time-zones from US, Singapore, UK, South Africa, Canada, Australia, UAE etc) were glued to our television jumping and sinking in our couches with every seat won & lost by AAP. AAP was the 2nd runner up sweeping out INC completely from Delhi with 28 seats out of 70 and leaving the winner with 32 seats in their kitty. Therefore none had the necessary number (36/70) to form the Government. When the winner shied away from Govt formation AAP made a minority Govt., on 28th December 2013 and took Oath in front of million people in Ramleela ground which also had witnessed the mid-night baton charge, several fasts, beginning of a new hope and birth of this political movement. AAP is all geared up to give India a clean & corrupt free political system as It’s all set to target 2014 National election.
As AAP effect is evident and fast spreading in the Indian sub-continent, it is setting the performance bars higher for other ruling parties. The question is not whether they will win or lose National election but what does AAP’s emergence means to India ? Trust me, something remarkable has happened in Indian society –
- AAP’s emergence brought a paradigm shift and redefined Indian politics by changing the rules of the game. The very definition of politics has changed from dirty game of prowess, arrogance and might to humble service to the nation. AAP instilled faith in people that politics, transparency, ethics, humility and good character can co-exist.
- It has made politics more interesting than cricket in India. Political discussion which was once a favourite pass time in long distance travel and over evening coffee has now become an integral part of people’s life as it’s skilfully shaping people’s ideologies. Indian Politics will never be same again.
- We have grown up listening to the stories of Indian independence, freedom fighters and spiritual leaders like Swami Vivekanad have deep rooted values. We always drew our inspiration from the stories of the yore. Now we are part of India’s second war against freedom and I am not only witnessing history but making history with my little drop in the ocean, which will inspire the generations to come. AAP through its idealistic approach & humble leadership has raised people’s consciousness strengthening national character.
- My generation which was also taught to accept things without raising a finger, was now asking questions and demanding accountability – this is sure to strengthen the very roots of Indian democracy. Every Indian now wants to participate in nation building by either being a devil’s advocate or an active agent of change. We are now moving slowly & steadily from representative to participatory democracy.
- People have become more conscious & responsible towards their surroundings. Several stories such as these are everyday news headlines these days – Common people helped police in traffic control in Punjab; People bent their body and mind and cleaned barren areas to be used as function area by the poor & needy, which was earlier left at the mercy of the Govt; many others have volunteered to do survey and evaluate the pathetic condition of Govt in Delhi; People protested against the rape cases happening in their cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, Bhopal and Delhi…its about rising social consciousness of people. This change is infectious
- The AAP phenomenon has stitched India with a common thread of love for the nation as the latent patriotism becomes more apparent with AAP’s emergence. I know today I have thousands of people whom I can relate better with because we share same passion for our country. My age band was frustrated with the current system and we thought ‘lets better shape our own lives… nothing can change in India’. AAP’s emergence is a clarion call to all Indians to join hands in Nation building. People have left their high paying job and joined this political movement working relentlessly day and night on ground.
Truth about my answer – AAP’s emergence has proved my argument to be correct that I presented in the classroom in 2010. I can now vouch that it was not a mere ingenous excuse but the voice of my conscience which found expression that day. Being actively involved with AAP has not only helped me reinstall my faith in the lost pride in being an Indian but also made me a better Indian.